|Created By||Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster|
|Release Date (Netflix)||August 10, 2023|
|Edie Flowers||Uzo Aduba|
|Richard Sackler||Matthew Broderick|
|Glen Kryger||Taylor Kitsch|
|Shannon Schaeffer||West Duchovny|
|Britt Hufford||Dina Shihabi|
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Each episode of “Painkiller” opens with a disclaimer told by a real victim of the opioid crisis in the U.S. The moment is sobering, painful, yet an unfortunate juxtaposition to the rest of the show. “Painkiller” may be written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, but the Netflix series is hammered into people’s brains by director Peter Berg. “Painkiller,” tells the story of the opioid crisis from four different viewpoints on a spectrum that ranges from outrage to outrageousness.
First, we have Edie Flowers (Uzo Aduba), a lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice and is one of the first to investigate the danger and greed behind OxyContin. Edie Flowers is a fictional character who guides the audience and narrates events to help clarify any issue.
Then we have Glen Kryger (Taylor Kitsch) and his family’s story about Glen’s addiction to OxyContin. After suffering a work-related accident, Glen is prescribed OxyContin, and while it initially works wonders for him, the drug morphs Glen into an unrecognizable ghost around his family. Glen’s story is the most dramatic, and while the character is fictional, his story is meant to represent the thousands of victims of OxyContin addiction.
“Painkiller” also focuses on lower-level salespeople on behalf of Purdue Pharma. Shannon Schaeffer (West Duchovny) is a new recruit at Purdue Pharma, and her job is to try to sell OxyContin to doctors as a new miracle drug. She’s led by Britt Hufford (Dina Shihabi), a more experienced saleswoman with fewer moral quandaries about her job. Once Shannon grows skeptical about the web of greed that connects the healthcare industry, she also questions her own liability.
Finally, in the most satiric and cartoonish sequences, “Painkiller” focuses on the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma. Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick) is the decision-maker about how OxyContin is sold, distributed, and marketed. While the Sackler family is the only real name we follow in “Painkiller,” the story takes some creative liberties by having Sackler visited by the ghost of his late relative, Arthur Sackler (Clark Gregg), throughout the series.
“Painkiller” is a story shouted more than “told” with quick cuts, countless montages, and the energy turned up to 11. Director Peter Berg takes a page out of Adam McKay’s (The Big Short, Don’t Look Up) book with characters breaking the fourth wall, cartoon villains, and giant clashes of comedy and drama. The miniseries demands your attention. “Painkiller” is riveting, like a car crash you can’t take your eyes away from. The only problem is that sometimes the crash is the show itself.
Our Rating: Mixed (Stick Around)
Who Is This For?
People who may be looking for an understanding of the opioid crisis or have distrust in the pharmaceutical industry should give this miniseries a watch. Just please make sure to research more afterward.
Notable Performances, Moments, or Episodes
Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers
Uzo Aduba has the tremendous responsibility of anchoring the narrative by often being the sole voice of reason and providing exposition to what we’re seeing. She does this with the right mix of sweetness and acidity in her delivery. While the story’s framework of Aduba’s lawyer character explaining this all to other lawyers is questionable (wouldn’t they already know all of this?), she has the right amount of boiling disdain to keep the narrative moving.
A Committed Cast and Inventive Editing Keep the Series Engaging
Viewers may strongly dislike the way “Painkiller” is told but will still watch all six episodes due to a committed cast and phenomenal editing. Uzo Aduba, Taylor Kitsch, and West Duchovny, in particular, play pained characters imprisoned by their own actions to riveting effect. Each episode ends with an interesting intercutting display of events, and they especially strive to show the world through Glen Kryger’s eyes as everything he loves slowly slips away.
Cartoon Villains with Over-The-Top Behavior
The Sackler Family and Purdue are very real, yet they’re treated like villains in a Muppet movie. While they should be held liable for the deaths of thousands of people and the destruction of countless lives, the exaggerated depiction of the family can shrink them into cartoon villains. As Richard Sackler dances with his ghost mentor, the scene feels unnecessary, and I wonder who it’s trying to appeal to. The scenes verge on parody, but these are the people in power that should be targeted with clear precision, not with goofy ghosts and dances.
On The Fence
Flashy Style with Little Substance
“Painkiller” will most likely keep viewers hooked, but by the end, its uncomfortable mix of hoorah chants and songs and few factual figures feels like a disappointing attempt at showcasing an epidemic in the U.S. It may capture the spirit of many lawyers, naive employees, and victims of addiction, but it does so through screams, fist slams, sex, and an off-putting montage every few minutes. What it all amounts to is an unsubtle glimpse of a deeply rooted problem in America.
What I Hope To See
As the miniseries concludes its four stories, I doubt “Painkiller” will continue. If Berg and the writers wish to continue with another American crisis, I hope they trust that viewers have brains and provide more factual information in each episode.
If you like this show, we recommend:
- The Big Short
- Don’t Look Up
Check out our TV-Series page for our latest recaps and reviews, as well as recommendations.
Has “Painkiller” Been Renewed For Another Season?
As of this writing, “Painkiller” has not been renewed for another season.
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